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Tina Casey headshot

Bacardi Takes Stands on Both Gainful Employment and the Environment

Bacardi’s latest initiative addresses the twin problems of youth unemployment and a worker shortage in the hospitality sector - with an environmental twist.
By Tina Casey

Bartenders have a unique window on the world. They absorb and reflect the hubbub of conversation that swirls around their workplace. They fill many roles, including those of cheerleader and social influencer. When brands build relationships with bartenders — or mixologists, in professional parlance — they have a unique opportunity to amplify their messages. That’s not as simple as it may seem, but the company Bacardi has launched a new youth training program that could help build public support for its environmental activities as well.

Bacardi launches new training program for young mixologists

Bacardi’s new initiative addresses the twin problems of youth unemployment and a worker shortage in the hospitality industry.

Announced last month, the company’s “Shake Your Future” program is aimed at recruiting young people into the hospitality industry through a bartending and mixology training program.

In an era when the “gig economy” is attracting workers into jobs with little or no career development opportunities, Shake Your Future offers placement in an industry that has traditionally offered pathways for working up the ladder.

Bacardi gave this program a trial run last year in France. Based on those results, the company plans to roll it out across Italy, France and Spain later this year, with the aim of making it available in 12 leading cities globally within three years.

From the doorstep to an open door

With a branch in the Paris suburb of Saint-Ouen, Bacardi launched the pilot project to help address a youth employment crisis occurring practically at its own office doorstep.

According to the company, youth unemployment in the European Union is at an all-time high of 15 percent. At the same time, though, skilled workers are in short supply for the hospitality industry.

In partnership with the European Bartender School, Shake Your Future offers a free 10-week training and work program, leading to internationally recognized certification.

Beyond instruction in mixing scores of different cocktails, the program includes rigorous instruction in bar management and other transferrable skills.

The program also offers a genuine chance at job placement, with leading bars and restaurants providing on-the-job experience for participants.

Amplifying environmental messages

Coincidentally or not, Bacardi’s focus on youth employment has come about during a key moment in history, when young people across the globe are flexing their power to influence policy on climate change and other environmental issues.

In the meantime, evidence is growing that millennials are attracted to companies that share their values — both as consumers and as employees, too.

In other words, a company’s ability to attract the up-and-coming generation of workers is becoming intertwined with its ability to engage the public on environmental issues.

As a spirits maker devoted to building relationships with young bartenders, that focus puts Bacardi in a good position to work with the hospitality industry to amplify messages on the environment.

Bacardi already has a head start with a focus on the issue of ocean plastic debris. The effort has included partnering with nonprofits on local beach cleanup projects.

Bacardi has also taken the cleanup campaign to the source. Last year it partnered with the innovative organization Lonely Whale on the #FutureDoesn’t Suck campaign, designed to raise awareness about ocean plastic. A key element of the campaign is to encourage consumers to stop using plastic straws.

As part of the campaign, earlier this year Bacardi promoted a slightly tongue-in-cheek initiative to lobby Unicode, the keeper of the emoji archives, to remove the straw from the popular cocktail glass and soda cup emojis.

In another imaginative iteration of the plastic straw campaign, last month Bacardi and Lonely teamed up to produce a limited-run vinyl record made with recycled plastic straws. The effort has enlisted more than 50 bars to help collect straws. The record will feature Make It Hot, a musical collaboration by the international artists Major Lazer and Anitta, as announced earlier this summer by Bacardi.

Engaging employees on the environment

Bacardi has also taken the ocean plastic campaign into the arena of employee engagement. In 2014 it launched the annual Good Spirited Awards, aimed at motivating individual employees, teams, and entire facilities to develop new environmental programs including energy and water as well as waste and recycling. This year, the winning programs included amplification of the plastic straw campaign.

Another employee-centered initiative involves the company’s “Back to the Bar” event. Bacardi staged its second annual Back to the Bar event last February, sending more than 7,000 Bacardi employees to more than 1,000 bars in 130 cities around the world.

The event is aimed at peppering social media with Instagram messages. In just its second year, it has become an “important cultural touchstone” for Bacardi.

In a press statement last February, CEO Mahesh Madhavan explained that “…it’s important to reconnect with our roots, think like Founders and put our own feet on the street to see first-hand how our business, bars and consumers are changing.”

This ability to enlist employees in supporting brand identity and amplifying environmental messaging presents an interesting contrast with the efficiency-and-availability focus of gig employment.

That is reflected in the behavior of investors who are working to establish ESG (environmental, social and governance) profiles. Specifically, they are avoiding Uber and Lyft. In addition to a plethora of worker rights issues, evidence is beginning to show that ride-sharing services can increase car traffic and undercut public transportation, rather than helping to reduce local congestion and air pollution.

Impact on brand reputation

While Uber and Lyft (especially Uber) have struggled with their brand reputations in recent years, Bacardi’s emphasis on global youth, youth culture, bartender training, bar culture and employee engagement has been paying off. This year, Bacardi celebrated its seventh consecutive appearance on the Reputation Institute’s Global RepTrak 100 list, published in Forbes.

All things being equal, in the coming years Bacardi, and companies like it, will intensify their efforts to connect with global cultural transitions on a granular level, especially regarding the rise of youth activism and environmental action.

For Bacardi, it comes down to recognizing that bartenders are “truly on the cutting edge of what’s new and next in our business.”

The company foresees a revival of interest in drinking cocktails, driven by millennials. If all goes according to plan, this new “golden age” for cocktail culture will also be an age without a place for plastic straws.

Image credit: Johann Trasch/Unsplash

Tina Casey headshot

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.

Read more stories by Tina Casey